From Disney to off-Broadway, Vanessa Leuck’s career is one of costumes and creativity

By VCU News

Costume designer Vanessa Leuck found herself caught in a creative whirlwind last fall when theaters in New York pushed to open new shows after being closed for almost 18 months due to the pandemic. 

The Virginia Commonwealth University alum was working on three new productions simultaneously — the off-Broadway premiere of “A Turtle on a Fence Post,” a musical about a political consultant getting railroaded into prison by former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; the video “Rescue Rue,” a true story about a woman’s dog adoption journey; and the world premiere of the play “Senior Living” at Portland Stage in Maine. She is also revisiting her work on the musical “Emojiland” for the national tour of the off-Broadway production this year.

“My husband [Tony and Grammy nominated theater artist and music supervisor Ethan Popp] is working on three shows as well,” Leuck said. “We reopened shows, and we feel like we are in a tornado. We are all being pulled in different directions, and we hope everything is back on track to be really great.” 

Admittedly there is a lot going on, but Leuck, who graduated from the VCU School of the Arts in 2003 with a master’s degree of fine arts in costume design, works well under pressure.

“Before the pandemic, I was incredibly busy as well,” she said.

From fantasy characters and the inner workings of a cell phone to politics and prison, Vanessa Leuck enjoys researching and designing for a wide variety of styles.

Growing up in a creative household

Born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Leuck grew up in a creative household and those influences would later show up in her work. Her mom was an artist.

“That is where I was naturally inclined,” she said about art. “I got in trouble in math class because I was always doodling. I excelled at art and English.”

Her father loves creative writing. He collected comic books and is an avid Disney fan.

“He took us to Walt Disney World every other year. We went to the opening of EPCOT,” Leuck said. “I loved the fantasy, the theme parks and the fun. It was a nice balance.”

When she was young, her parents enrolled her in theater camp, where she discovered acting wasn’t her strong suit.

“I hated it. Acting didn’t come naturally. My younger brother is a great actor, but for me, I would be wearing a trash bag and holding twigs in order to be a tree in the background,” she said.

She was drawn to costuming early in life.

“My poor younger brother and cousins,” she said, looking back. “I was costuming them and putting makeup on them and creating a play. At the time, I didn’t realize that it could be a job. My mom and dad didn’t realize that costume design was a career choice.”

After graduating from high school in 1996, Leuck took a step toward her childhood goal of being an artist by enrolling in the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she received her bachelor’s degree in fashion design in 2000.

“I wasn’t sure when I started college what career I wanted, however I loved art and knew I wanted to be an artist,” she said.

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Disenchanted photos by Matthew Murphy; Emojiland and Turtle on a Fence Post photos by Jermey Daniel; Disney on Ice photos by Feld Entertainment; Hair design credits for Disenchanted, Emojiland, and Turtle on a Fence Post: Bobbie Clifton Zlotnik. Lead Image: Vanessa Leuck.